Danielle Gori-Montanelli crafts fanciful jewelry with wool

MIDDLEBURY — An upside-down figure on the porch of Danielle Gori-Montanelli’s home studio near Middlebury Union Middle School, gives you the idea that this neighborhood home might be a little different from the rest. And indeed it is.
This is where Gori-Montanelli creates her “fanciful felt jewelry.”
Walking into her first-floor studio, you’re greeted by eclectic bursts of color at every turn. Bolts of felt produce a rainbow on a wall; finely cut, bold felt necklaces dangle from a dowel; food-inspired felt earrings bookend a dividing wall. Then there’s a whole table dedicated to felt succulents, another lined with elegant ribbon (where she packages her mail orders), and of course her worktable — butted up against a large window and scattered with small pieces waiting to be assembled. 
Eclecticism sprays onto the walls, with a picture of a young Keanu Reeves that Gori-Montanelli picked up when she was a teenager; a wall covered with hanging scissors — some modern, some antique; and a few of Gori-Montanelli’s earlier portrait paintings.
The fun continues through her whole house — including a 16-foot sticker of a woman by an Italian comic that she and her husband, Lorenzo, fastened to each step as you ascend to the second floor.
Gori-Montanelli exudes the same vibes as her art: Bright, bold and oh-so-wonderfully joyful.
“My work is just plain happy,” she said, through bright red lips and a sparkling grin. “I like to make it funny… Like pancakes aren’t too funny, but when you put them on your ears they are.”
Same goes for TV dinners, avocados, carrots, pills, colored pencils, plants… the list goes on. Gori-Montanelli forms these everyday objects into brooches, earrings, necklaces, and more, using a thick, 100-percent wool “designer felt” from Europe (mainly Germany).
Independent photo/Steve James
Though she’s been working in felt for the better part of the last two decades, it’s not where Gori-Montanelli started. In fact, this Washington, D.C., native has always considered herself first and foremost a painter. She studied at Sarah Lawrence College — a 1989 grad — and then headed for New York City.
“Once in New York I found myself making a living as a jeweler quite by accident,” reads Gori-Montanelli’s artist statement on her website (studiodgm.com) “I had taken a weekend jewelry-making course for fun and this class sparked the beginning of a silver jewelry-making career that I enjoyed for 12 years.”
But the blowtorch, soldering fumes and heavy metals were not exactly healthy; and so Gori-Montanelli switched to felt — a welcome change.
“Having done silver for so long, I was dying for color,” she said.
Why felt?
Well, after a successful show (back when she was selling her metal work) Gori-Montanelli would treat herself to a felt hat. And it stuck.
In 2002, she and Lorenzo (whom she met in the city) decided to pack up their lives and one-year-old son, Nico, and move to his family’s home in Florence, Italy.
“I had done my junior year in Florence,” said Gori-Montanelli. “And I totally fell for Italy.”
The new family figured they’d try it for a year.
Gori-Montanelli kept all of her U.S. art show commitments.
“I just started commuting,” she said.
Yes, it was difficult. Consider jet lag, customs, and heaven forbid the airline loses the luggage with all of your work!
“Although the materials were different, the way that I worked them remained the same,” explains the artist’s website. “I was constructing things out of sheets of felt, building up flat layers, in the very same way that I had been assembling silver and bronze.”
Over the years, Gori-Montanelli developed metal dies to precisely cut the thick, dense felt —resulting in near perfect shapes — and enabling her to construct geometric patterns and reproduce pieces more efficiently.
This went on for 10 years in Italy. Crafting and commuting; commuting and crafting.
Gori-Montanelli stands in front of a wall of scissors — some antique and some useful. On a nearby table are displays of her finished brooches, pins and other small pieces.
Independent photo/Steve James
Then in the summer of 2012, the family (now with two kids, Nico and sister Saskia) moved to Middlebury — a much easier commute to the major art shows Gori-Montanelli is part of, like the Smithsonian Craft Show, the American Craft Expo in Chicago, and the Museum of Art and Design’s “Loot: Mad About Jewelry” show in New York City.
“Middlebury is very different from Florence,” she said, as she readied the espresso machine.
Yeah, you can say that again.
“We went from gorgonzola to cheddar, olive oil to maple syrup, and cappuccino to,” Gori-Montanelli paused, “oh well, better not to think about that one.”
But her art and inspiration has remained the same — boldly inspired by color, joy and happiness — even in the face of something as ugly and dark as breast cancer.
Gori-Montanelli was diagnosed with an aggressive type of breast cancer last summer, and just recently celebrated her survivorship.
“I feel very lucky,” she said, touching her short, pixie hair. “They found it early, but it’s something that will always be on my mind.”
The artist cancelled shows and slowed way down as she underwent surgery, chemo and radiation.
“It teaches a lot about yourself — what’s important and the value of your connections,” she said. “I had treatment every day for a month and spent a lot of time at the Hope Lodge in Burlington. It was beautiful; there was so much joy and humor even with people who were dying. It was an amazing experience. I didn’t love all of it, but I don’t regret it.”
Independent photo/Steve James
Now that she’s back in her studio, full of energy, she’s noticing that her art has changed only a little bit.
“I guess I’m getting more healthy,” she said laughing. “I’m making peas, carrots and avocados instead of chocolates and pancakes.”
Ha! So, not really. It’s the same, whimsical, beautiful felt art that brings so much joy.
Find Gori-Montanelli’s work online or call (802-989-7443) to make an appointment to see her studio.

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